Urge Senators to include Civil Liberties Amendments to the FISA Amendments Act (S. 2248)

UPDATE

Unfortunately, two of Senator Feingold’s amendments were voted down, listed below as A and B. However, remaining amendments, including the third amendment below (C), will be voted upon on Tuesday, and library advocates are asked to keep calls going into their Senators’ offices asking each Senator to support civil liberties concerns in S. 2248. For more on these developments, please read the story in CQ.

Further, this issue is moving very quickly. Since the Senate is spending so much time on this bill, the House will have only a limited amount of time before the President’s Day recess to get the bill passed. Call your Representative now and get him/her ready! Express your concern for civil liberties!

MESSAGE:
The most immediate and important task for library supporters is to call or fax, as soon as possible, both of their respective U.S. Senators to SUPPORT the three amendments being offered by Senator Feingold and others to S. 2248, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act. These civil liberties amendments would add some privacy protections to the surveillance standards of FISA: the significant purpose amendment; the bulk collection amendment and the Webb-Tester-Feingold amendment! S. 2248 is too flawed to support without such improvements.

BACKGROUND:
The Senate continues debate this afternoon the S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act. ALA asks all library supporters to call or fax as soon as possible, their respective senators to urge them to vote AYE on several important civil liberties amendments that will improve the bill. Otherwise, S. 2248 is a highly flawed proposal that would continue to allow inappropriate warrantless surveillance and other intrusions into our civil liberties and privacy.

a) Reverse Targeting: An amendment that would require the government to seek a full, individualized FISA court order, based on probable cause, for the conduct of surveillance when a significant purpose of such surveillance is to acquire the communications of particular person in the U.S. The amendment would, among other things, prevent reverse targeting, the practice of monitoring the communications of a non-U.S. person abroad without a court order for the underlying purpose of acquiring the communications of a person in the U.S. who is communicating with the person abroad. This amendment is highly consistent with the position that ALA has taken over the years that there should be court review and individualized suspicion for law enforcement to obtain warrants in order to obtain library patron records.

b) Bulk Collection: An amendment expected to be offered by Senators Feingold and Dodd would prevent the government from engaging in mass, untargeted collection of all communications coming into or going out of the United States. DNI McConnell has indicated that the August, 2008 Protect America Act permits bulk collection of Americans international communications, and indicated that the Intelligence Community does not engage in this practice. The Feingold bulk collection amendment would prevent it from occurring in the future. ALA has taken a similar position in previous debates – the parallel being that law enforcement should not be able to obtain entire blocks of library records. Again, court-approved warrants based upon individualized suspicion should be the standard.

c) Protection of Americans International Communications: Senators Webb, Tester, Feingold, and others are expected to offer an amendment that would protect the privacy of certain international communications involving people in the United States. Under the amendment, when the government knows in advance that a foreign target is going to communicate with someone in the United States, it cannot acquire that communication without a court order unless the communication involves terrorism, a suspected terrorist, or there is an emergency.

When the government does not know in advance with whom a foreign target is communicating, the amendment permits acquisition of a communication with a person in the U.S., but requires the government to segregate the communication. It can access, analyze and disseminate the segregated communication if it is evidence of crime or if the government obtains a court order, or for a limited period of time if the communication involves terrorism, a suspected terrorist, or if there is an emergency.

OTHER EXPECTED AMENDMENTS:
Senators Feinstein and Cardin are also expected to offer “improvement amendments.” Ask for support for these and any other civil liberties amendments.

The floor debate is vigorous and the situation fluid. Watch for updates on C-SPAN and in the news – as well, standby for updates from the ALA Office of Government Relations. Similar action will also be needed as the House starts work on their version of this legislation, likely to come later this week.

About Jacob Roberts

Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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